Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

An uplifting day at reform school

A testing day in the end offers renewed hope for our church, writes Kelvin Wright.

Kelvin Wright  |  12 May 2010

I went to St John's College in 1977, a few weeks after Clemency and I married. The college gave us an allowance, a minuscule flat in Abraham Place, and I settled in to study for an Otago BD.

The other students mostly pursued an LTh, so I did my degree alone, with participation in the occasional lecture which happened to fit the Otago syllabus. I attended the communal worship and meals. I acted in the plays and played on the sports teams, drank the coffee, did my share of tidying the grounds and played a daily (at least) game of snooker.

For the first time in my life I was happy. I learned the value of learning for its own sake and I met some inspirational teachers and leaders. I made friends and have continued those friendships for the the 30-something years since

St John's College was one of the high points of my life and consequently it is a place very dear to me. But I'm a part of this church and receive the same scuttlebutt as everyone else. I know that the college has not been a happy place for some time now.

This has been one of the open secrets of the church; we have all known that the college has had its problems but because it is so dear to so many of us no one has wanted to ask why or set about the process of healing

Of course, there have been other reasons not to question the performance of the college. The dependence of so many of us on funds emanating from the St John's Trust is one. The mind-boggling complexity of the governance and management systems surrounding the college is another

Mostly, though, St John's College and its three constituent colleges are the main area in our church's life where our three-tikanga system of government has a real, practical expression. To question the functioning of the college has seemed tantamount to questioning the very constitution of our church; a constitution which has, since 1992, brought new life, vigour and mana to all sections of our church

Commission report

Today the day arrived when the chickens were supposed to come home to roost. Buried in the order paper was a seemingly innocuous sentence: as part of Motion 3, the adoption of reports, was the adoption of a report by the Commission of Enquiry In Relation To The Structure of The College of St John The Evangelist.

Over the past year of so, a commission consisting of Sir Paul Reeves and Ms Kathryn Beck had been looking into the way the college was organised. Among the recommendations flowing out of their findings was that a commissary be appointed to oversee the college for two years while essential changes to its organisational structure were made

In effect this would end, albeit temporarily, the management of the college by three heads of college. To adopt the report was to agree with it and its recommendations. With the college, its structure and its finances so important to so many, this was bound to be controversial

In the event the debate on the report took all day, but while it was deeply and seriously considered, it was marked by two things: a willingness to listen and a strong desire on the part of all involved to do what was best for the whole church. Sir Paul launched the discussion with a masterful speech that was firm, honest, uncompromising, respectful and compassionate.

I lost count of the number of times we withdrew into tikanga lobbies to caucus and consider our options. In the end the report was adopted, amended to ensure the safeguarding of kaupapa Maori, and with the proviso that Tikanga Pasefika be given enough time to process it according to their own administrative structure

The debate was robust but respectful and I for one ended the day with renewed hope in our church and its structures. This debate was, in many ways, a test of the three-tikanga constitution, and it held firm. No actually, more than that; it showed its unique ability to deliver a result that honoured the kaupapa of all tikanga

Today we began a process of reform of the college whose end will be what all of us who participated in today's milestone discussion want: the preservation of the college that is dear to us all, to the very great benefit of another generation of Anglican leaders.